The Universe in Tide Pools

It’s the fall of 1973 and mom’s packing the car for a trip to the beach. Not any place – our special beach, a strand of remote coastline in Northern California between Santa Cruz and Pacifica. We call it brain beach instead of it’s official name, “Bean Beach,” because it’s cow-sized rocks – poc-marked with holes – look more like a human brain than beans.

We get to the coast in time to catch the early morning fog. My brother, John and I charge toward the shore, leaving mom to bring all the beach stuff. We run fast to meet the tides edge, stop just short of it, then kick and scoop water with full gusto, sparing no effort to get each other wet.

Tide PoolsThen, without skipping a beat, we make a b-line towards the jagged edged cliff at the end of the beach. The tide moves fast, allowing just a few hours of access to the area around the corner. The tide pools.

Rocks at brain beach are not only full of lots and lots of small holes, but they are luxuriously smooth, at least the part between the holes. The kind of smooth that gets slippery with ocean spray, but feels so good to walk on when dry. But you have to be careful of the edges formed when the area between the holes wears thin from the pounding waves. That part of the rock breaks, leaving a butter knife sharp edge. We navigate the edges and slipperiness in pursuit of our treasure – the tide pools freshly filled with ocean water.

There is nothing dull about these water-soaked kingdoms. Their contents predictably include combinations of starfish, sea anemones, all kinds of seaweeds, muscles, crabs and various crustaceans, and yet each and every tide pool is a world unto itself. Unique and mesmerizing.

I’d find a favorite pool and sit on my haunches nuzzling my feet in a way that makes me feel secure against the waves power. With each one, comes the promise of a new discovery, a micro-adventure. The pools fill up – bringing seaweed to life, anemones opening like flowers, and an occasional crab, its claw peaking out from under a rock.

Then, just as fast, water rushes out making that same seaweed collapse, the anemone, constrict and the crab retreat back under its rock. There’s a slight crackling sound that comes with the instantaneous change from water to sunshine.

And this is just one tide pool.